Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Religion and Teen Sex

From The New Yorker:
Last year, Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, published a startling book called “Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers,” and he is working on a follow-up that includes a section titled “Red Sex, Blue Sex.” His findings are drawn from a national survey that Regnerus and his colleagues conducted of some thirty-four hundred thirteen-to-seventeen-year-olds, and from a comprehensive government study of adolescent health known as Add Health. Regnerus argues that religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and that this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical. The vast majority of white evangelical adolescents—seventy-four per cent—say that they believe in abstaining from sex before marriage. (Only half of mainline Protestants, and a quarter of Jews, say that they believe in abstinence.) Moreover, among the major religious groups, evangelical virgins are the least likely to anticipate that sex will be pleasurable, and the most likely to believe that having sex will cause their partners to lose respect for them. (Jews most often cite pleasure as a reason to have sex, and say that an unplanned pregnancy would be an embarrassment.) But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual d├ębut”—to use the festive term of social-science researchers—shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.

Another key difference in behavior, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement’s warnings that condoms won’t actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease. More provocatively, Regnerus found that only half of sexually active teen-agers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine per cent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.


American evangelicals toe a strict ideological line that is counterproductive. Shocking.

For the record, I support responsible and safe premarital sex, including among mature teenagers. We should teach all teens how to use contraception, including emergency contraception. It would probably be a good idea for all parents to promise not to punish any kids who come to them for help getting to a doctor to get emergency contraception, just as many offer to pick their children up from parties they aren't supposed to be at if they get in trouble, no questions asked.

Abstinence-only education does not work. Teaching kids that sex is dirty and sinful is not just wrongheaded and out of date but counterproductive as well.

Via the Friendly Atheist.

(Previously: Abstinence Only Sex Ed, including some facts you might not know if you went to a school without good sex ed.)

24 comments:

Holy Hyrax said...

>just as many offer to pick their children up from parties they aren't supposed to be at if they get in trouble,

Bad analogy because the parent will demand the child NOT go those sorts of parties anymore. They might not get mad the first time, but they will the second and third time.

Holy Hyrax said...

The correct analogy to taking to a doctor would be to take them to the party, and not get mad.

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

Same thing with sex. First time you need EC, no punishment. Second time an anti-teen-sex parent is going to be pretty pissed off.

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

I'm talking about going to a doctor AFTER the sex (in the event of a condom breakage or if they were too stupid to even use one) for EC.

Holy Hyrax said...

I understand, but your point is that they won't get mad AND to CONTINUE supporting them to get contraception if they need it. Not the same thing regarding getting picked up from a party that they should not have been in.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Abstinence-only education does not work. Teaching kids that sex is dirty and sinful is not just wrongheaded and out of date but counterproductive as well."

How is it that it's virtually unheard of for OJ girls to drop out of highschool because of teenage pregnancy? What are Jews doing that's so right? I'm not naive to believe that there's no such thing as OJ teenage premarital sex, but it's way way below the national rates.

I recognize that the national abstinence only programs don't work, but that may just represent a flaw in the programs as they are today rather than a problem in their goals.

"For the record, I support responsible and safe premarital sex, including among mature teenagers."

You do? Why? You think teenagers have the wisdom and the emotional stability to engage in it without all too often dropping into the numerous pitfalls? Do you also support "responsible and safe" recreational drug use for teenagers?

And separately, what's the difference between a "mature" 15 year old girl and her 30 year old neighbor? What say you of statutory rape?

Orthoprax said...

"Teaching kids that sex is dirty and sinful is not just wrongheaded and out of date but counterproductive as well."

I just wanted to add that I agree with this statement. Sex is a great thing - but it's an even greater thing when it's a special activity that you only do with your spouse. But we live in a society which promotes transient physical pleasure over the enhancing utility of stable marriages and meaningful long-term relationships.

If sex is promoted to being an act which is only *worthy* of being performed with a loving spouse then the hedonism implicit with the view of it being merely a form of pleasure would be curtailed.

Margo said...

Jewish Atheist--
I agree with you. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

I teahc in a high school that distributes condoms for free. The students learn how to use them in health class and in parenting class. We still need a big daycare center on site to accomodate the babies of our students. And those are just the once who decide to finish their education. Many girls just drop out. And the statictics support my esperience. So it seems condoms just don't work.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and a recent study reveal that one out of foru teenage girsl has an STD. Big problem

Jewish Atheist said...

ortho:

How is it that it's virtually unheard of for OJ girls to drop out of highschool because of teenage pregnancy? What are Jews doing that's so right?

I agree that Orthodox Jews are unusually successful at preventing (unmarried) teen pregnancy. I'm not sure if they are so much better than non-Orthodox Jews or similarly educated/rich non-Jews.

You do? Why? You think teenagers have the wisdom and the emotional stability to engage in it without all too often dropping into the numerous pitfalls?

I'll probably revisit this subject if and when I have teens of my own, but I think I was ready around 17 or so and I don't see why others couldn't be as well. I did specify that they should be responsible teens.

Do you also support "responsible and safe" recreational drug use for teenagers?

I'm not sure that's possible. Probably a little beer and pot would be okay.

And separately, what's the difference between a "mature" 15 year old girl and her 30 year old neighbor? What say you of statutory rape?

I'm in favor of an age of consent of 17-18 when there is a big age difference.

Sex is a great thing - but it's an even greater thing when it's a special activity that you only do with your spouse.

I don't know. Is that true or just religious propaganda? Couldn't we say that about anything? Playing tennis is great, but it's even better when you just play with your wife!


Anonymous:

And the statictics support my esperience.

What statistics are those?

Oh, and a recent study reveal that one out of foru teenage girsl has an STD. Big problem

Having sex is a lot safer than driving. Should we ban teen drivers?

Jewish Atheist said...

ortho:

One other thought on OJ that's obvious now that it occurred to me. Separate-sex schools. Duh. If you keep the sexes apart, it's hard for them to have sex.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Separate-sex schools. Duh. If you keep the sexes apart, it's hard for them to have sex

Does this work for the catholics girls too ;)

Holy Hyrax said...

>I don't know. Is that true or just religious propaganda? Couldn't we say that about anything? Playing tennis is great, but it's even better when you just play with your wife!

Apples and oranges.

I think, especially for a man, its important to keep it within marriage. Being in a meaningful relationship almost forces the man to make sex more than just some animalistic instinct (that all us men have). Im generalizing, but I think outside the bounds there is not much to tie us down to what the act should be.

Holy Hyrax said...

Though I must say that doing anything with a spouse, even Tennis, can be more special.

Jewish Atheist said...

hh:

To be clear, I think monogamy after marriage is a very good idea. :-) It's premarital sex I support, not extramarital. (Although if two people decide to have an open marriage, it's none of my business.)

Holy Hyrax said...

The difficult part, for me at least is, what if someone is 40 and not married, should they remain a virgin? I would answer no, because I put a distinguish in trying to instill in teens a sense of something important about a marriage and that before a marriage, at their young age, sex is just some rouse for some self indulging pleasure. I don't think a man is responsible at those ages and end up taking advantage of young girls (emotionally).

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"I'll probably revisit this subject if and when I have teens of my own, but I think I was ready around 17 or so and I don't see why others couldn't be as well. I did specify that they should be responsible teens."

Were you ready to be a father? Were you ready to make decisions about abortion? Were you ready to appreciate the risk of STDs? These are real outcomes that reliably occur some percentage of the time, even when people are responsible. And even if you think you were, do you really believe your average 17 year old would be?

It's not even so much these outcomes, but the fact that within a monogamous marriage the risk of STDs are way reduced and a ready made relationship is already in place in case there is a pregnancy. Much of the anarchy and tenuous family relationships we have in America are directly related to premarital sex and the fall of the ideals of marriage.

"I'm not sure that's possible. Probably a little beer and pot would be okay."

My point is that even if it would probably be ok, the risks are high enough that they're not activities that you should want to promote. Even if some kids manage to get through alright, others will follow their lead and likely not do as well.

"I'm in favor of an age of consent of 17-18 when there is a big age difference."

Why? Responsible is responsible, isn't it? Are you pro-premarital sex among 16 year olds? 15 year olds? Ten year olds? Where's the line?

"I don't know. Is that true or just religious propaganda? Couldn't we say that about anything? Playing tennis is great, but it's even better when you just play with your wife!"

If you consider sex a game then you'll treat it like a game. But it's not a game.

"One other thought on OJ that's obvious now that it occurred to me. Separate-sex schools. Duh. If you keep the sexes apart, it's hard for them to have sex."

That's fair, but not true across the board. MO schools are often coed. You think Ramaz has pregnant girls dropping out? It's unheard of!

But HH makes the other good point that Catholic schools are also often gender separate but don't have the same reputation.

Anonymous said...

"And the statictics support my esperience.

What statistics are those?"


The statisitcs that show that teenage prenancy is a big problem in our country.

"Oh, and a recent study reveal that one out of foru teenage girsl has an STD. Big problem

Having sex is a lot safer than driving. Should we ban teen drivers?"

Is it sfer than driving? Do one out of foru teens get into an accident? And maybe we should ban teen drivers.

Jewish Atheist said...

ortho:

Were you ready to be a father? Were you ready to make decisions about abortion? Were you ready to appreciate the risk of STDs? These are real outcomes that reliably occur some percentage of the time, even when people are responsible. And even if you think you were, do you really believe your average 17 year old would be?

Good points, all. But you have to stack up the other side of the equation, too. Lots of things in life are risky, but we don't attach the same moral baggage to them as we do to sex. I do think that one should have his/her head straight on abortion/having a kid/adoption first. If both partners are okay with abortion as a last resort, I don't see a big problem.

Much of the anarchy and tenuous family relationships we have in America are directly related to premarital sex and the fall of the ideals of marriage.

I'm not advocating having kids outside of marriage.

My point is that even if it would probably be ok, the risks are high enough that they're not activities that you should want to promote. Even if some kids manage to get through alright, others will follow their lead and likely not do as well.

I'm not saying I'm going around promoting teen sex and drug use, but I think it's something responsible teens should have the freedom to choose for themselves. And choosing sex and/or beer/pot isn't necessarily a bad choice for a teen. It's a tradeoff.

Why? Responsible is responsible, isn't it? Are you pro-premarital sex among 16 year olds? 15 year olds? Ten year olds? Where's the line?

The likelihood of being taken advantage of is bigger when you have an adult and a teen. I think 15 is a reasonable minimum age for same-age sex, although obviously it depends on the kid.

That's fair, but not true across the board. MO schools are often coed. You think Ramaz has pregnant girls dropping out? It's unheard of!

Different from private schools with similar (albeit non-orthodox) demographics?

But HH makes the other good point that Catholic schools are also often gender separate but don't have the same reputation.

True.

Jewish Atheist said...

anonymous:

The statisitcs that show that teenage prenancy is a big problem in our country.

You seemed to be implying it was a result of condom distribution. Sorry if I misunderstood.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Lots of things in life are risky, but we don't attach the same moral baggage to them as we do to sex."

Right, but I'm less confident that we shouldn't treat sexual relations with moral implications. In a more insidious way, I think widespread premarital sex and the associated attitudes towards sex makes for fewer marriages (and even fewer that last) and poorer romantic relationships.

"I'm not advocating having kids outside of marriage."

I'm confident that most teenage mothers did not become so intentionally. But, y'know, being supportive of premarital teenage sex has the usual suspects of obvious consequences.

"I'm not saying I'm going around promoting teen sex and drug use, but I think it's something responsible teens should have the freedom to choose for themselves."

Ok, so given the choice, towards which direction would you counsel your child?

"And choosing sex and/or beer/pot isn't necessarily a bad choice for a teen. It's a tradeoff."

You would support your child in his free choice of illegal substance use?

"The likelihood of being taken advantage of is bigger when you have an adult and a teen. I think 15 is a reasonable minimum age for same-age sex, although obviously it depends on the kid."

Advantage how? If you think they're responsible enough to have sex with kids their own age why are they not responsible enough to decide if they ought to have sex with older people?

"Different from private schools with similar (albeit non-orthodox) demographics?"

I don't know. I suspect so, but I don't have the data. In either case, what are all such people doing right?

G said...

Abstinence-only education does not work. Teaching kids that sex is dirty and sinful is not just wrongheaded and out of date but counterproductive as well.

I beg your pardon?
So that's the only "teaching" approach that takes place in connection to abstinence?

Sorry, but once again you are making a blanket statement about a segment of the population that is simply untrue.

Anonymous said...

Just a note on Catholic schools: many people send their kids to Catholic school to avoid the terrible public schools, so there are a lot of non-Catholic kids who come from all over the religious map. Interestingly, the Catholic schools in France have become an outlet for Muslim girls who don't want to take off their head scarves (which they're required to do at the state schools).